Jails to stay crowded

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 2, 2002

BNI Newswire

In a surprise decision, Circuit Judge William Shashy on Thursday approved a motion filed several weeks ago by the Alabama Department of Corrections requesting more time to work on the problem of overcrowding in the state prisons and county jails.

Shashy issued a ruling June 14 mandating the state remove all state inmates being housed in county jails by June 26 or face more than $2 million in fines. That ruling was the latest in a string of motions and rulings regarding a suit filed by county sheriff’s asking for some relief from overcrowded county jails, caused in part by the large number of state inmates being housed in those county facilities.

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The order gave the state until June 26 to remove those inmates or pay $2 million, or $26 per inmate per day, in compensation to the county jails. The Tallapoosa County Jail last month was home to 48 state prisoners, putting the small facility at 61 inmates over its capacity of 92. The state pays the county $1.75 per inmate per day.

The state responded to the June 14 ruling by filing a motion requesting the judge "alter, amend or vacate" his judgment.

Thursday, Shashy told officials "there could be a reduction of current and future monetary sanctions" if those officials make a "reasonable and definite commitment" to resolve the decades-old problem.

"I think (the decision) was a little better than we expected," said Brian Corbett, public information officer for the Department of Corrections.

Corbett said the motion filed last month included numerous affidavits from wardens at various state prisons informing the court of the overcrowding problems faced in their facilities.

"(The wardens) stated in the affidavits what it would do to their prisons and what it would do overall if the state were forced to take those prisoners at one time," Corbett said.

As of July 19, the number of state inmates who had been in a county facility for more than 30 days was near 1,300. That number had increased from the preceding week, and is only expected to rise.

In his ruling, Shashy calls not only for the Department of Corrections to come up with a solution, but asks that the prison commissioner and finance director meet with top legislative leaders, the attorney general and the head of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama to work on a plan. Corbett said that is what is needed.

"This problem is a DOC problem, but it’s also a problem bigger than our one agency can handle," Corbett said. "We need a lot of help from a lot of people."

Corbett said Shashy’s ruling acknowledges the fact that the overcrowding problem is real, and Gov. Don Siegelman agrees.

"Today’s ruling by the court clearly recognizes that this long-standing problem requires a comprehensive solution with participation from all three branches of state government," Siegelman said.

That comprehensive solution must be put to paper by Sept. 3, according to Shashy’s ruling, something Corbett said is feasible, but misleading.

"It’s feasible that we can come up with a plan and say this is what we need," Corbett said. "We can have something on paper by Sept. 3, but just because we have something on paper doesn’t mean it will be done."

Corbett said the judge and the public need to understand that any plan of action devised will cost money, and that money simply isn’t there.

Siegelman said his office is "committed to doing everything possible" to fix the overcrowding problem, and he is "confident that Alabama’s leaders from the three branches of government will be able to work together to create a permanent solution. However, he said the public needs to be patient during this planning process.

"While we do this, we need to ensure first and foremost that our homes, streets and communities are safe. We need to ensure that violent criminals are locked up where they belong and that nonviolent offenders work for their food, shelter and clothing, as well as reimburse their victims," Siegelman said.